Thursday, 17 December 2009


Unfortunately the popular portfolio website, which I subscribe to, is currently offline. The company is working on the situation, fingers crossed things will be sorted out in the near future.

In the meantime you can see a broad collection of my children's illustrations on my Flickr page.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Illustration Friday - entangled

This is from the 4-volume collection of lesser-known tales by Hans Christian Andersen, "Unknown Andersen" published by Hyoronsha during the bi-centenary celebrations of his birth in 2005. It accompanied The Story of a Mother, a dark tale of a mother's quest to find her child after it has been stolen by Death. During her journey she faces a series of painful ordeals, including embracing a thorn bush.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Winchester Conference

Last weekend I was invited to run a workshop at the British Isles SCBWI Conference at the University of Winchester. This was the second year for the event but only the first time I'd been able to attend. It was also the first time to see the British Isles membership together, though I recognised several faces from other events such as Bologna or the Society of Authors CWIG Conference last year.

As I write, the web promo is still viewable on the SCBWI British Isles Website. Other guests included writers Meg Rosoff, Cliff McNish and Fiona Dunbar, and illustrators Paula Metcalf and Gillian McClure. Philip "Beardy" Ardagh entertained on Saturday evening with a humorous after-dinner speech.

My own workshop session was on illustration portfolios, "Learn the secrets of building a better portfolio and showing it effectively" - a repeat of an event I first ran in Tokyo earlier this year. I think most of the attendees were able to learn something from the talk.

I was mightily impressed by the Conference. The organisers had packed two days with speeches and breakout sessions, portfolio reviews and competitions, everything seemed to be very thoroughly arranged. Also I felt as if I was really connecting to the membership in this country, it was really great to be with so many creative people in one place, although I'm a professional illustrator I find these events especially inspire me to develop myself as an author. Since returning to the UK I've not made much progress with book dummies and other self-penned projects, the conference has definitely helped to restore energy and focus! Many thanks particularly to Candy, Margaret, Anne-Marie, Paolo and Natascha for all their hard work.

Sadly I didn't take any photos, but Paul Morton has posted a number here

Monday, 26 October 2009

Disney Collaboration Limited Edition print

My latest work is perhaps a surprising collaboration involving Disney. Popular art licensing and print company Art Print Japan, which has retail outlets across Japan, has tied up with Disney and approached 15 artists to offer their versions of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. These have just been released in Japan as limited edition giclée art prints.

For various reasons I prefered to avoid depicting the characters directly, and
chose instead to conceal their faces as optical illusions inside landcapes, thus....


The prints, in editions of 100 each, measure 348×424cm and are available from Art Print Japan.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

"Imaginary Journeys" exhibition in Bucharest

As a repeat of a successful exhibition last year, SCBWI in Romania organised a second illustration show Imaginary Journeys combining work by name international illustrators with Romanian artists in Cărtureşti Bookshop, Bucharest, and once more kindly invited me to participate. The show was widely covered by the media and opened on 4th October. there was a big reception on 8th October, and the show was eventually extended 2 days beyond the planned closing date to the 17th. The Romanian Cultural News website set up an online gallery showcasing some of the works, which is still running. The exhibition is to be shown again from the 25th to 29th November at the Gaudeamus Book Fair and in March 2010 at Cărtureşti bookstores in Timisoara and Cluj.

From the press release: "The exhibition’s theme is one of the most appreciated in children’s literature all around the world, one that attracts the imagination of illustrators and gives them a greater freedom than any other subject: The Journey – traveling to far-away places, exotic ones (the North Pole, Asia, Africa), space travel, imaginary travel (The Other Lands, Dwarfs World, Ice Queen Palace).

Among participants you can find: Bridget Strevens-Marzo (International llustrator Coordinator SCBWI), John Shelley (freelance illustrator that started his career in London, author of Hoppy’s New House and The House of the World), Brian Karas (author awarded with numerous prizes like New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Books, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award), Lois Bradley, Doug Cushman and many others.
In the exhibition you can see also the books of Romanian authors and illustrators from which illustrations were chosen - "Prinţul în palatul de sticlă", "Ziua în care a fugit somnul", "Legenda Sfântului Valentin"."

Due to the success of the show SCBWI hopes to repeat this as an annual event. Many thanks to Alina Darian of „Soarele si Luna” Publishers and members of SCBWI Romania for making the exhibition such a great success.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Illustration Friday - Frozen

Anyone who knows my work well may have seen this before, it's from the picture book 12 no Tsuki-tachi (The 12 Months), a traditional Slovakian fairy tale, from the version by Marshak and published by Miki House in Japan with a translation by Sho Suzuki. One of my older works, but often reprinted, a new edition is about to be released.

London Transport

The blog has been pretty quiet of late as I've been moving out of Staffordshire and settling into London. It's a big change from pretty, quiet Lichfield, but considering I've lived in cities most of my life, especially the bustle of Tokyo for so many years I feel a lot more comfortable in the big city. Location is very important for me, not only for artistic inspiration (see previous posts) but also for the convenience of living.

My biggest handicap in Lichfield was not being able to drive. Motoring has always been anathema to me, I've never even tried to learn, I was 40 before I ever sat behind the wheel of a car with the engine switched on. To this day my only driving experience is a single 25 yard crawl in a hired car. Ditto motorbikes and scooters, never has my posterior straddled any kind of engine.

I often wonder why I was never bitten by the motoring bug, I had virtually no interest in cars as a teenager beyond the aesthetic appeal of old classic cars. This was partly due to witnessing massive arguments about cars between the obsessed petrolheads in my family. I decided early on that entire weekends spent under a bonnet getting covered in oil or macho posing behind a wheel of the "right" car were not for me. While every member of my family passed their test and zoomed off down the highway, I remained a confirmed city-bound pedestrian. Had I remained in the UK perhaps my resolve would have eventually been undermined, but 20 years in Tokyo as a disciple of the fabulously efficient public transport system only strengthened my conviction. As I've mentioned before on this blog, sitting on trains was a great opportunity to observe, sketch and doodle. Happily, my late (2nd) wife didn't drive either, nor any member of her family.

I say I've never driven, but that doesn't mean I've never owned a car. Sad to admit, for a time in Japan I bought a series of cars, owned by me, but driven exclusively by my first wife. First we had a Citroen 2CV, eco-friendly, it was black all over, from the very last series before production ceased. It was slow, manual, and very draughty in the winter. I liked it, ex-wife hated it. Before long it was swapped for an Audi. That in turn gave way to a Mercedes hatchback. My soirée with motor vehicles ended when we split. I don't think I ever sat in the driving seat of any of these cars!

But back to now, and here I am in London after a 22 year absence. In the city at least, whatever I can't get hold of locally is only a bus or tube ride away (though Boris has just made this a very expensive option).

This afternoon I tried cycling to Kilburn. Blimey! I was out of puff before I was half way down the road, by the time I reached the High Road my legs were quivering lumps of jelly. Lack of transport in Lichfield kept me virtually house bound for a year. Hopefully time in London will get me back in shape.....

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Highlights High Five Award

Very busy time lately, hence my silence on the blog. I've just returned from a long home-hunting expedition in London, with happy results, so major changes are in the pipeline.

On my return home I was amazed to find in the post a beautiful pewter plate from Highlights High Five magazine in the US. The inscription tells me I've been awarded the "Thinking Feature Illustration of the Year 2008".

I'm a bit of a fatalist, so this has to be a good omen I tell myself. Many thanks to High Five! Here's the plate...

...and the illustration...

The brief, titled "What's Big? What's Not?" sought to challenge young children to identify different sizes, lengths and so on in a fun way.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Illustration Friday - Tango

another image from the vaults that fits this week's Illustration Friday Brief "Tango". This was for an exhibition held in Ginza a while ago.....

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Illustration Friday: Hollow

Old exhibition piece illustrating the saying Fairy Folks are in Old Oaks. Seems to fit this week's "Hollow" theme. Can you spot the hidden figure in the shadows? (I didn't know it was there until after I'd completed the artwork).

Friday, 10 July 2009


I've just finished an unusual (for me) book for British publisher Frances Lincoln Ltd, a non-fiction lift-the-flap for young children on the human body. Outside-in was written by Clare Smallman and first released in the mid 1980's with illustrations by Edwina Riddell, but for this new edition I was asked to completely overhaul the book to appeal to a modern readership.

The text and layout were pretty fixed, but it was an interesting project to approach. Many spreads consist of pictures of children, with a flap to reveal the working body underneath, thus...

In the illustrations I tried to achieve a balance between accurate depiction of children with just enough character and distortion to make a fun book.

There are also some vignette scenes like this.....

Outside-in will be co-released in the USA by Barrons, I'm not sure of the exact release date yet.

This was an interesting project quite different from my usual output. In Japan I established my career illustrating fairy tales and dreamy aspirational images, the UK seems a lot more gritty. After researching wasps and fleas for the "Nasty" book, I'm wondering what other in-the-face projects might be next!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Cover to Cover Conference

Looking towards the end of the year, I'll be giving a talk at the British SCBWI 2nd Conference for Writers and Illustrators Cover to Cover, and all the magic in between - the making of a children's book which will run on 21st and 22nd November this year at the West Downs Campus in Winchester.

There are a lot of good speakers and it promises to be an interesting weekend for faculty and attendees alike. My break-out session will be "Power Portfolio's - Learn the secrets of building a better portfolio and showing it effectively". running from 1.00 - 3.00pm on the 22nd.

Regular readers will note that I gave a talk on exactly the same topic in Tokyo earlier this year, I'll basically be covering similar ground, here's the blurb:

"Despite, or perhaps because of, the plethora of artists websites, nothing beats a face to face meeting with an art director or editor. An effective portfolio that best shows off your talents is essential. With over 25 years of experience as an illustrator John Shelley will focus on the golden rules of portfolio layout and offer insights to help strengthen your portfolio book or other media. The workshop will also address focusing on your best work, tightening your presentation skills, and the psychology of meetings and tips on promotion. Following the talk, attendees are invited to submit their portfolios for discussion and critique. Please bring along your portfolio as you would to a client, a picture book dummy if you have one, and promotion materials."

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Early Summer in Staffordshire

A bit quiet on the blog lately, due chiefly to a pressing book deadline. I'm indoors sweating over a drawing board rather than under the summer sun, but almost done now, I'll post images when it's all handed in.

Nevertheless, much as I yearn for London, there's much around here to count blessings for.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

"Nasty" Interior art

Some of the full page interior cuts from the new edition of Michael Rosen's "Nasty".

The Book consists of a series of comic horror tall tales related by a woman first met by the narrator in a London pub. Among other things a giant flea infesting the Underground, belligerent wasps in the middle of winter, poisonous burgers, mouse hypnotising, and a runaway grizzy bear, lots of fun to illustrate.

The book is released on 6th August and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

New Children's Laureate

Anthony Browne has been elected the new Children's Laureate in UK, as reported by the Guardian here.

"Browne said that he would use his two-year stint as laureate to focus on the appreciation of picture books, and the reading of both pictures and words. 'Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older'..."

This is wonderful news, not only is Browne a fantastic illustrator he's a great spokesman for children's books. Picture books have been in the doldrums for several years now, let's hope that despite the recession things will start looking up. Go for it Anthony!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Illustration Friday - Craving

I promise more essays on the way soon, but for now something for this week's Illustration Friday topic "craving".

It's a spread from the picture book 12の月たち (12 no Tsuki-tachi, or "The Twelve months" in English), first published back in 1991 in Japan. It's a classic fairytale from Slovakia, following the tale of gentle Marushka who is sent out into the freezing winter forest to bring back impossible things for her cruel stepmother and bullying step sister. First they crave violets, then strawberries, and finally apples. Each time the frozen girl is helped by one of 12 brothers in the woods, each representing one of the 12 months, who change the seasons to give her the items. Needless to say, it all ends badly for the evil step-mother and sister when they go seeking the fruits themselves.

The book, released by Miki House in Japan, has been through several reprints already, and a new edition is to be released later this year. Drawn in a very traditional style, this is one of my biggest selling titles in Japan. Sadly, no release in the West though.

Friday, 22 May 2009


Another children's book illustration that fits this weeks Illustration Friday theme "cracked". This was from Hoppy no Atarashii Uchi (Hoppy's New House), one of my own stories published by Fukuinkan Shoten in Japan.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


The latest book I've been working on is a new edition of Children's Laureate Michael Rosen's "Nasty" for Barn Owl Books in London. First released in the 1980's, this new edition will run with 25 black and white text drawings by yours truly, plus colour cover.

All will be revealed in August when the book is released, in the meantime here's a sneak preview of the cover design.

Friday, 8 May 2009


Here's something from the cupboard that matches this weeks Illustration Friday brief "Parade". It's from the picture book King Smelly Feet, written by Hiawyn Oram, released in the UK by Andersen Press a few years ago.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Here's a very recent doodle. I seem to be drawing a lot of fantasy towns lately, I think it's all part of the way my mind works with escapism.

Strange to say, much as I love the natural world my imagination tends to be most energized when I'm in a crowded, urban city environment. I love the country, exploring forests and craggy landscapes, but if I spend too long away from the city my imagination is dulled. My mind perhaps feeds off the surroundings but rarely goes beyond, I become relaxed and inspired by oneness with nature, but that's as far as it goes.

In the city however I'm always mentally escaping, my imagination is constantly finding ways to soar beyond the concrete or seeking escapism within it. It's that switching-off from reality, a yearning to escape the shackles of the town that really motivates my fantasy vision.

It's a paradox that although my art is closely connected to the natural world I need the city for my creative vision to soar. In essence I need both - no trees: no vision, but no city: no escapism. The more concrete, the more inhuman the environment, the more I seek humanity in my art. Many of the greatest fantasy artists are often from very urban backgrounds, it can be said that city dwellers really appreciate the fantastic properties of the natural world because they yearned for these things when they grew up. Fantasy for them is a magical release from the humdrum.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

SCBWI British Isles Featured Artist

My work for children's literature is currently being showcased by SCBWI British Isles, having elected me the current Featured Artist. The website spotlight runs until July.

Many thanks to the organizers.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St Georges Day

Well I'm not what anyone would describe as much of a patriot, but it seems in my long absence from the UK that celebrating the patron saint of England is nowadays acceptable. Actually I'm only half English (the other being Welsh), but any excuse to celebrate. Here's something I did for the George & Dragon pub in Florida a while back.

Happy St.Georges Day!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


My thanks to Desdemona McCannon for querying the subject of doodling for a feature she's writing for Varoom (AOI magazine). I'm repeating my response here:

I always carry a small sketchbook with me everywhere I go, sometimes I use it to sketch, sometimes to practice, sometimes to work out ideas for jobs, and sometimes just to doodle. Doodling is a distinct activity for me. It's never sketching, it's not preparative drawing, and never has any deliberate connection to work, were it so it would cease to be a doodle. Doodling is something unto itself.

A typical day's rambling

For me it's all about flexing of the boundaries, going outside parameters of what I think my professional style should be. All of the baggage of career can be put aside for a while. Doodling can be an exploration of texture on the page, often in my case it's an exploration of grotesque, which is perhaps odd as my professional work is rarely grotesque at all.

I remember in younger years I would often get into trouble with my parents for defacing photos of celebrities in Radio Times etc, you know, adding goggle eyes, goatees and afro hairstyles. Mum and Dad could never see the creativity in it all. I think my doodles can be an extension of that pleasure.

It's an antidote to the need to please others, I doodle purely for my own enjoyment. Doodling is emotional therapy. It has no forced point to it, I never sit down and think "okey, I'm going to doodle about this" so, relieved of the weight of the commission or need to explain itself, the drawing follows it's own course, it soars, it breathes as it expands, and through that it connects with creativity in an unforced, natural manner.

Half way through a "serious" sketch I often reach a point when I think - "hey, this is quite good" and that's the time to stop. But with a doodle often I don't stop, I carry on, seeing it through to the bitter end, fill the page or push it so the drawing is overweight or ruined. It's not important, because sometimes the act of doodling is more important than the final product. For me sketches and working drawings are often quite light, doodles on the other hand can be heavy or laden.

Are doodles art? I think they can be, if, as they unravel themselves, they touch on your emotional state, or other subconscious thoughts, and can connect with the viewer. But it doesn't always happen, and the more self conscious you become, the more you feel you need to make a pleasing drawing, somehow the less personal it becomes. Great doodles should create themselves, they should meander from the end of your pen almost without command. Ideally anyway.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Family Reminders images

Here's a sneak preview of some of the drawings from the book.

One of the most interesting things about working on historical fiction is researching the period. I've always been fascinated by history, I often think if I wasn't an illustrator I'd have become a researcher or archaeologist, nevertheless I have to admit my knowledge of 1880's Colorado was limited. Nowadays the internet is a great help in finding accurate period references, but the publishers also kindly sent me a package of material to give me a very clear idea of the setting. For book illustrators it's important to be able to use the details of reference material to place yourself right in the location and time period. Often the pursuit of visual reference takes you in paths completely unrelated to the book. Thanks to Family Reminders I've learned a great deal about the gold rush, Colorado, and the late nineteenth century frontier in general.

Although the book is fiction, the location, the furniture, costume, hair styles and outside scenes are all based closely on actual references from Cripple Creek at the time, so I'm quietly confident that although I've never visited the town, my drawings fit accurately. If you see any slip ups however do let me know!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Family Reminders

My next book out in America will be Family Reminders. Written by Julie Danneberg and published by Charlesbridge, with black and white illustrations by your's truely.

Mary McHugh has a nearly perfect life in the frontier town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, but all that changes when her father suffers a serius mining accident. He no longer whistles, plays the piano, or carves the intricate wooden "Reminders" that mark the milestones in the family's life together. Mostly he sits in silence at the kitchen table or sleeps. As winter's chill gives way to spring's thaw, Mary tries to remind her family of how much they have to live for - namely, each other.
(From the jacket copy).

The book is officially released on 1st July, though you can pre-order on Amazon. Here's the cover

Friday, 27 March 2009

sketchbook fantasies

Some more pen on paper meandering from the pocket sketchbook. Where is it leading? Who knows, like most quests of discovery the journey is often more important than the destination.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Nichiban artwork

Last year I was commissioned to create the illustrations for a web-only pop-up book "Mori no Yosei Monogatari" to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Japanese Sellotape manufacturer Nichiban (you can still see the book by clicking on the book icon here).

It was an advertising campaign more than a children's book commission. To emphasise the eco-friendly policy of the company I was asked to create the images in a deliberately traditional style. It's difficult to see some of the detail in the web book, so here are a few scans of the artwork.

Monday, 23 March 2009


Here's a sad story of our times. A couple of years ago I was commissioned to work on a brand new logo to revamp the dated image of Skylark, a well known but financially troubled family restaurant chain, with branches all across Japan. Hard did I work, well did the designer pitch the designs, but unfortunately the presentation was cancelled, as so often happens in advertising today.

I presumed we'd just been defeated by a rival design, but I see that Skylark is still today using the original old 1970's logo. Facing a financial crisis perhaps the company felt they simply couldn't afford to change it's public image now. I'd have thought changing the image should be a priority! Last August the company sacked it's boss.

Oh well, my images may not be plastered all over Japan's highways, but at least I can show them here.